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P. 1
Kenya

Kenya

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Published by Chris Lines
Where's the ...
Where's the ...

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Published by: Chris Lines on Dec 21, 2011
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12/21/2011

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The Men’s Room
I don't know if you have ever been in the situation where you need to ask for something, but don't know quite how to ask. Not because you don't speak thelanguage or are unsure of what it is you want, of course, but because of the fear of the consequences of misunderstandings. I learned this a long time ago, on my firsttrip to the US from England, when I needed to erase a mistake I had made whenusing a pencil. I asked my large and feminist colleague if she had a rubber.Interesting reaction. And I was impressed by the speed with which the face canregister emotions. In a fraction of a second I could see she had gone from disbelief tooutrage, slightly more slowly onto realization of the language/culture difference, andfinally understanding that she was not dealing with a polite rapist but simply a sadEnglishman who needed help in the form of an eraser.It was quite a few years later that I was able to watch a similar but less aggressiverange of thoughts and emotions cross another and very different face. By this time Ihad extended my appreciation of other cultures as a result of various travels onbehalf of my employer, so my ability to select what I felt was an appropriate word or expression had expanded somewhat.On this second occasion I was enjoying my first trip to Africa, spending severalweeks working in the city of Nairobi, in Kenya. While there, I was introduced to adelightful lady who one evening invited several of us visitors to dinner at theMuthaiga Club. This is the place where Karen Blixen outraged the members of thethen exclusively male club by deliberately being a woman and ordering a drink at thebar. The club is open to all these days, of course, but there is still a Gentlemen-only areawithin the club, where ladies are forbidden to enter. I was in need of the facilities after dinner with its excellent beer, wine, and coffee, and set off into the unchartedgrounds of the male preserve. I trekked down a long corridor with mysteriouslyunmarked doors on both sides, turned left when there was no other option, and themysterious doors continued.But help was at hand. At the end of the second corridor stood an immaculatelydressed gentleman with a very white small cloth resting on his forearm. I hesitate torefer to this apparition as a mere waiter – he was far too grand for such a lowly title –but at least, I thought to myself, if he works here, he must know where the Gents ishidden.My elegant friend stood unmoving as I approached, and as I reached him I saw thatto my left was a wide double door opening onto a truly enormous bar, in a room thesize of Belgium, populated by many tables with chairs around them, a most desirableselection of medicines behind the bar, and all glowing richly in the low light and darkwood surroundings, with not a customer to be seen. And standing behind the bar ready to serve all-comers was another display of collective Kenyan elegance. Bracedby this vision, I said to myself “Never fear, this is a bar, and therefore the Gents mustbe close by.”So, my journey is so close to an end, but for what exactly do I ask this person of sartorial perfection standing before me for? The options were riffled through mentally,

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